OSDL Shake-up: Reduces Staff by 1/3 and Stuart Cohen Leaves

The Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) in Beaverton, OR has just eliminated 9 technical and administrative positions at the labs. A staff of 19 people remain at OSDL including Tom Hanrahan in engineering, Diane Peters for legal work, Linus Torvalds, and Andrew Morton.

ZDnet writes that “CEO Stuart Cohen resigned to pursue opportunities with higher-level open-source software,” and that “Cohen’s resignation as CEO was coincidental and independent of the other changes at OSDL”. According to ComputerWorld, Cohen will be working with Portland and Seattle based venture capital firm OVP Venture Partners. Mike Temple will be moving the COO position into the CEO role.

The now smaller OSDL will focus on the following:

“The lab’s board concluded that a modified mission was appropriate because Linux is now mainstream, and companies have become adept on their own at some of the collaborative work OSDL was founded to oversee, Temple said Monday. The group is funded by IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Novell, Intel and several other computing companies.

OSDL’s middleman role–connecting customer requirements, computing-company resources and developers–remains unchanged, Temple said. “We will be a catalyst among those three, to bring them together, solve problems and create the code,” Temple said.

Funding freed up through the layoffs is set to go toward legal work, which the group’s members have found valuable, Temple added. The group either will contract with legal professionals or hire a staff attorney, he said.

In technical matters, the organization will stop focusing on projects defining broad categories of Linux–earlier examples including efforts for high-end servers, telecommunications gear, mobile phones and desktop computers. Instead, engineering work will emphasize narrower efforts to find areas where new software needs to be written.” (Quote from Zdnet)


“The OSDL is shifting its resources to focus on four key areas: continuing to provide a safe haven for key developers, sponsoring the work of Torvalds and others; providing increased legal support for Linux and open source to account for licensing and patent issues that are increasing in complexity (this expansion will complement current OSDL initiatives such as the Patent Commons, Osapa.org and the Linux Legal Defense Fund); supporting ongoing regional activities such as the Japanese Linux Symposium; and fostering closer collaboration among community developers, OSDL members and users to produce more code to advance open-source projects, OSDL officials said in a statement.” (Quote from eWeek)

Here is my take on the situation. I do not buy the “coincidence” argument. I find it very hard to believe that the CEO of any organization would just decide, completely of his own accord, to leave during a change of this magnitude. With a staff reduction of this relative size combined with a new strategic direction, Cohen’s leaving OSDL would not have been a coincidence. There are a few possibilities (caveat: this is pure speculation):

  • First, the board of directors may have “suggested” that Cohen leave due to any number of potential issues: dissatisfaction with his performance, lack of confidence in his ability to lead the organization under the new mission, …

  • Second, Cohen may not have wanted to stay under the new mission for any number of reasons: lack of agreement with the strategic change and new mission, expecting the job to be less exciting under the new mission and wanting to find greener pastures, …

Despite my skepticism about Cohen’s “coincidental” leaving, I do think that the new mission will be good for OSDL and for Linux. When OSDL was first formed, Linux as an open source project was less mature, and fewer contributors to the Linux kernel were sponsored by large companies who paid their salaries. As a result, the contributions tended to be made in areas of personal interest, which may or may not have been the areas needed to make Linux successful in large deployments of mission critical systems. OSDL helped to coordinate efforts and provide testing labs where Linux could be tested on large clustered systems not generally available to most people. Now, with companies like IBM and Intel doing more work toward sponsoring developers and helping with testing, OSDL’s original mission has become less important.

The focus on legal matters makes sense. With the proliferation of lawsuits, concerns over software patents, licensing concerns and other legal matters becoming top of mind, having an organization to focus on open source legal issues could be a great benefit. 2007 could be an interesting year for open source legal matters: the GPL is undergoing a revision, and the Microsoft / Novell agreements related to patents could be clarified. Many open source projects are run by small groups of individuals or small companies, and it would be great to have OSDL as a legal resource.

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One Response to OSDL Shake-up: Reduces Staff by 1/3 and Stuart Cohen Leaves

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